What’s the buzz at L-P? (with video)

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s an unmanned aerial vehicle, aka drone. John Zurek of Pepper Construction launched the drone Wednesday outside of La Salle-Peru Township High School to take video and photos of the exterior in preparation for a $38 million renovation.

A drone buzzing around the clock tower Wednesday was a sign that La Salle-Peru Township High School is preparing to tackle its $38 million renovation project.

There are dozens of steps in planning this project. Project manager Pepper Construction, architectural firms Kmetz and Legat, and representatives of the district and the school are deep into the planning now.

“We’ve been meeting on a weekly basis,” superintendent Steve Wrobleski said.

The two-year project will launch this year with mostly exterior work.

The electronic bee

Students passing classes earlier this week looked skyward to find the buzzing. John Zurek of Pepper Construction launched a drone. 

With a camera on its fuselage, it hovered and sent video and photos of the school’s exterior to the controller in Zurek’s hands.

Zurek recorded video and snapped photos. He pinpointed spots that need work such as tuck-pointing of masonry and documented pre-renovation conditions.

Before launching, Zurek walked around the main building with Matt Baker, L-P spokesman. Clock tower masonry was repaired about six years ago, Baker said.

“Is there any way for me to take off from the roof of the building? Zurek said. Baker said, “Yes.”

“We might do that just because I can’t let the drone out of my sight and I have to get the backside of the spire,” Zurek said.

Zurek, a licensed commercial drone operator, said he might shoot enough photos to build a 3-D model of the school on a computer.

“I can’t make any promises but we’re going to give it a shot,” he said.


Zurek was impressed by the exterior, given that most of the main campus was built in 1928 and 1938. Sellett Gym on the far west and the industrial education wing on the east end were built in the early 1960s, the last time voters approved a bond issue for L-P. The East Gym is the oldest structure, built in about 1914, Baker said.

“The tuck-pointing really isn’t horrible,” Zurek said. “I can see a few spots that are ugly and they’re not even that ugly. I can take you to Chicago and show you some ugly buildings.”

Zurek and Pepper Construction of Chicago will manage the project.

“Once we get stuff from the architects, the drawings and stuff, we help find subcontractors, we organize it, plan it, schedule it, get everybody out here, get it done, handle all the billing, all the financials to it, basically do all the stuff you guys don’t want to do,” Zurek said to Baker.

Temporary classrooms

On Wednesday the L-P board approved letting bids for window replacement, masonry tuck-pointing, roof replacement and temporary classrooms.

Renovation will displace students and teachers floor by floor during next school year. Four temporary buildings providing at least eight classrooms will be erected in the parking lot south of the East Gym.

This will affect parking. Overflow vehicles will use the lot along Sixth Street and a new lot next to the Dolan Building.

How many windows?

Every window except stained glass will be replaced, likely this summer.

“Pop quiz. How many windows would you guess we are replacing?” Wrobleski said.

150? 200? 400? 600?

“You’re close but you’re still too low,” Wrobleski said. “680.”

“We had people come out a week or so ago just to go through all different types of windows that are going to be efficient and meet modern expectations and ease of use that also respect the classic architecture,” Baker said.

Wrobleski and Baker have become aware of the specialized language of windows such as muntins, strips of wood holding glass panes, they said.

“Is it a single sash or a double sash?” Baker said. “And that’s just the windows. We haven’t even gotten into furniture and equipment and all that other stuff yet.”


The school already decided last fall to sell $9.76 million bonds for the $38 million project. However, given rising interest rates, it decided to sell the remaining bonds toward $38 million total. This is anticipated to save taxpayers about $600,000 over the 20-year life of the bonds.

“We want to get it locked in now,” Wrobleski said.

Board vice president Dr. Peter Meier of the Finance Committee said this week that the remaining $28 million bonds will be on the market by the end of February. This will be reflected in this year’s property taxes beginning with the first installment in June, Wrobleski said.

This adjusts the estimated additional cost in taxes to the owner of a $100,000 home to $143 a year.

“As always, this is subject to change,” Meier said.

Prior to the referendum vote, the school told the public it would cost the owner of a $100,000 house $139.20 a year over the 20-year life of the bonds.

“Thankfully, we are still in the range of what we presented last year in July,” Wrobleski said.


Asbestos and lead will be removed where people frequent. In remote areas where asbestos is sealed away and won’t be touched by renovation, it likely will be left alone, Wrobleski said.

“It will be very minimal,” he said.

Asbestos abatement will be needed around the old windows as they are replaced, said school board member Alan Cherpseske of the Building and Grounds Committee.

Visiting other schools

On Jan. 13, L-P staff took a bus trip to Mundelein and to Glenbard West high schools in the Chicago area. Both schools have undergone renovations, Wrobleski said. Glenbard West opened in 1922, close in age to L-P.

“What I’m really excited about with Glenbard West is its very much like L-P in terms of vintage and architectural styles built at the same time,” Wrobleski said. “They’ve experienced the same issues we have.”

Additional visits are planned Nile West High School in Skokie; the new Hall High School in Spring Valley; Northview Elementary in Peru, which underwent renovation and expansion in 2015; Parkside Middle School in Peru, which opened in 2009; and Streator High School, which recently opened an addition.

Planning and phasing

The remainder of this school will be spent mostly planning phases before exterior work begins this summer.

“Right now everything is all centered on reviewing what the $38 million is going to cover … as to what comes first and how we’re going to phase it,” Wrobleski said. “It’s taking the rest of the project and breaking it up into the appropriate bid packages. We’re looking at the heating, ventilation and air conditioning and getting that organized.”

The project, approved by voters last fall, will require shuffling of the school calendar. Some break time will be eliminated during next school year to lengthen summer break in 2018 and allow more summertime renovation, Wrobleski said.

The project ultimately will affect the number of teachers and students in each classroom along with furniture and electrical needs.

“The big question we have to still answer in the next four to five weeks is, as we look at what our classroom needs are with the course offerings that we have and the number of students we have, how many rooms can we expand?” Wrobleski said.

Jeff Dankert can be reached at (815) 220-6977 or lasallereporter@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaSalle.


General assignment reporter assigned to city of La Salle and La Salle high school and elementary school districts. He can be reached at (815) 220-6977 or lasallereporter@newstrib.com.

A real time look at local businesses social media postings.

Recommended for you

Load comments